What Everyone Gets Wrong About Millennials Who Travel
By Kim Pham
In May of 2017, I made the big decision to quit my job of three years...
(my first full-time role after graduating university), pack up my flat in London, and go traveling for the foreseeable future with my boyfriend.
It was a decision that I did not make lightly - consulting with friends, family, the Internet, random strangers, dogs in the park, etc.
I’m now three months into being both jobless and homeless, making my way through Central and South America with just a backpack and my boyfriend. Needless to say, It has been a whirlwind journey for both of us, encountering all sorts of challenges from constant traveller’s diarrhea (#tmi) and 11-hour overnight bus rides to grotty hostels and managing income-less finances. (It really isn’t as glamorous as my Instagram makes it out to be!)
One of the many challenges, interestingly enough, is constantly having to justify to folks why we have chosen to travel indefinitely instead of working and /living in one city. We constantly hear all sorts of misconceptions about how and why “millennials” travel (a category I’m not even sure I fully understand). Here are some that we keep hearing - as well as the many #feels I have about their fallacies.
“You must want a prolonged spring break.”
I mean, this makes sense - you are away from all who you know, in other countries, and oftentimes in new cultures. You feel free from all expectations and judgement. The world is literally at your fingertips - including the many, many vices you can choose to indulge. (And yo trust me, it is all available.)
Of course it is tons of fun to do the backpacker party hostel scene, hooking up with all sorts of beautiful and interesting folks from all over the world while on a variety of substances. Tbh I get it. However, there is so much to find rewarding about travel that falls outside of this debaucherous realm.
While we are privy to the occasional (okay, frequent) drink, the majority of our time is actually skewed towards non-party activities like hiking, surfing, scouting new restaurants, meeting other travelers, exploring museums, sightseeing, visiting local artisans, scuba diving, snorkeling, swimming, climbing, ziplining, boating...the list could go on forever.
The great thing is that you get make of your travels exactly what you want out of it.
“This must be all on your parents’ dime.”
I am far from a trust fund baby - as a first-generation Vietnamese-American, I am burdened by immense student loans (thank you NYU!), lack of generational wealth to fall back on (shout out to my badass immigrant parents who arrived to the US as refugees fleeing a war-torn country), and the falling worth of the Euro/Pound against the dollar (I was living and working most recently in Ireland/the UK). While I am certainly privileged in many ways, having my parents fund my travels is not one of them!
When I made this decision to go travelling at the beginning of this year, I consciously changed my lifestyle and skimped back on indulgences (goodbye, bi-monthly massages). By the time I left London, I had worked hard to put aside a chunk of money to be able to afford travelling.
Thankfully, my boyfriend is more financially literate than I ever will be - he put together a realistic budget, built spreadsheets, onboarded me onto financial management apps, and helped me set up a more travel-friendly credit card and bank account. It took many hours of frank and frustrating conversations about finances to give me a more comprehensive view of exactly how long we can travel and at what rate.
Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t easy to just drop everything, leave your life behind, and go travelling. It takes a lot of uncomfortable and honest dialogue around finances and logistics. We have found from speaking to other travellers that most have been doing similar planning for months, if not years, and are generally very budget-conscious. In fact, one of the many reasons we chose Central/South America is because our money goes further here due to local prices and the exchange rate.
“This sort of travelling is super dangerous.”
This really is subjective. If your perception of safety is a completely sanitized, Westernised environment free of all potential discomforts and unpleasant interactions, then yes, travelling anywhere outside of North America/Western Europe/East Asian cities may feel “more dangerous.”
But if you are willing to take on a bit more risk, expose yourself to non-Western standards of safety and comfort, and live a little - you will see so much beauty and happiness in the many people, cultures, and places that fall outside of this bubble, yet refuse to be pitied or defined by such. There are plenty of folks who live these risks daily, and who remain eager to show the world just how wonderful, unique, and exciting their communities are.
This does not mean being blissfully ignorant of potential dangers. We are constantly “arming” ourselves with knowledge (of potential zones of conflict, neighbourhoods to avoid, etc.) and precautions (vaccines, medical supplies, first-aid kits, SIM cards, etc.). If you identify as LGBTQ+, are a lone female traveller, or are not fully able-bodied, this may unfortunately mean having additional considerations around local laws, time of travel, mode of transportation, where you are staying, etc. (I hate that this is even a thing, but it is the unjust reality of our world at this time.) Thankfully, there are many resources available online to help guide your travels.
As with anywhere, it is always best to have healthy skepticism, stay alert, and generally not be a dumbass. But more often than not, the dangers in these developing countries are more results of Western fearmongering and isolated, internal incidents than they are real, everyday dangers for travellers.
“Traveling is a waste of time, better spent on focusing on your career path.”
We hear this one a ton - especially from our like-minded, ambitious peers. It is easy to hit the ground running after graduating university - working excruciatingly hard to level up on job title, salary, and social status. When you are in this rat race, it is easy to see such a travel break as a frivolous career setback.
To be honest, I partially agreed with their view on frivolity, which is why I found it so difficult to initially take the plunge. My parents struggled for so long to give me the opportunity to run 150% after my career - would putting it on pause be an insult to their sacrifices and all my hard work since I started in tech at 16?
I realised that the answer is not black-and-white. While travel may not directly translate into a job offer, it can create progress in other ways.
Firstly, travel doesn’t prevent you from being productive. I personally like to carve out time to stay engaged with my network, keep informed on movements in the tech industry, and work on meaningful side projects. While I may not be employed in a full-time capacity, I still sit down 4-5 times a week with my laptop for a couple hours, take calls, read/write blog posts, and stay on top of my inbox. I even started a new project called State of Platform as a way to both stay in-the-know and contribute back to the tech/venture capital community.
Secondly, progress can take a couple different faces. We are not one-dimensional figures, focused solely on the our 9-to-5 grind. Travel can complement and bolster many of your professional interests, without you needing to explicitly work on a side hustle. You are becoming a more well-rounded and open-minded individual, traits any employer is lucky to find in a candidate. At the very least, extended travel is a really interesting bullet point in your resume.
“Traveling is a waste of money, better spent on ‘smarter’ investments.”
It is easy to assume that since we are traveling for 6+ months, we are “sinking” thousands of dollars on mere experiences. Wouldn’t it make more sense to instead invest that money into something with more tangible ROI - like property, stocks, or a car?
Since we are lucky to have the financial and socioeconomic mobility to do it, I feel like there will never be a point like this again when I have the freedom to pack up my life and travel for the indefinite future. Especially with my boyfriend, who happens to align with me on job timing.
We recently met a 36-year-old Canadian named Mark while surfing in El Salvador. He assured us that we were making the right decision in going traveling when I expressed having some doubts about leaving London. In 2007, Mark was planning on traveling Southeast Asia, but was pushed instead to invest that money into a house. Cue: housing market crash. While Mark eventually made his money back, he still regrets not taking that trip.
I have to constantly assure myself that I will have plenty of opportunities to build my wealth when I return to “real life.” For now, I will focus instead on investing that money into myself, this relationship, and this exciting journey. And to be honest, it has been returning to me in spades - in expanding my view of the world, increasing my understanding of self, growing my empathy, and building a stronger relationship with my partner.
All this being said, I realise and own 100% that I am privileged - financially and career-wise - to be able to “take a break” from generating income to pursue endeavors such as personal development. Not everyone is as lucky to be able to carve out that time, money, and headspace.
I often joke that we are having a very expensive quarter-life crisis,
that we’re both just lost and trying to find ourselves in Central America. But in actuality, this break has been a rather natural extension of a life that already prioritises adventure and risk - I just get to live it fully and 24/7 now! While travelling has been challenging, I cannot imagine a better context that forces me to find a secure grounding within myself than in an ever-shifting, always-exciting adventure.
So while it is easy to write off millennial travel as indulgent or wasteful, it is important to understand that this is a highly individual journey (how millennial of me to say!) that can be simultaneously complementary and transformative. Everyone has their motivations to go for a travel break - whether to tear it up on an extended Eurorail trip, unlock their mind in a Peruvian ayahuasca ceremony, or discover a new sort of zen in a Balinese yoga retreat.
In classic “millennial fashion”, we are choosing to invest in unique experiences rather than things. The ROI on that is measured in a way that cannot be quantified, and that’s actually quite beautiful.
Kim Pham is a longtime human-in-technology, having worked in early-stage startups since she was 16. Kim has lived in Boston, NYC, Prague, Dublin, and most recently London, where she was Head of Platform at Frontline Ventures and named one of Forbes’ 30 Under 30 in 2017. After 3 years in Europe, Kim left her job in May 2017 to travel, work, and eat her way through Central and South America. When she’s not living and breathing startups, Kim is either in the process of voraciously creating or eating food.
Don't forget to follow along with her adventures on Instagram!